What would leaving the EU mean for the cultural sector? - Museums Association

What would leaving the EU mean for the cultural sector?

Severing ties with Europe would affect the many UK museums that receive funding via a range of EU initiatives
Patrick Steel
Perhaps it is a mark of how divisive the EU referendum debate has become that the culture minister and secretary of state hold opposing views. Ed Vaizey is pro-EU while John Whittingdale would like the UK to leave.

The secretary of state’s stance is opposed to the government’s, with a spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), saying: “The government’s position is that the UK should remain in a reformed EU.”

The DCMS would not disclose what preparations, if any, it is making for a possible exit from the EU, or what impact it might have on UK cultural policy.

What is clear is that if the UK votes to leave the EU in the referendum on 23 June, there would be a good deal of untangling to do, as UK museums receive funding and support from a wide range of EU programmes.

The EU’s Creative Europe programme has a budget of €1.46bn for 2014-20, and granted a total of €11.3m to 93 UK cultural and creative organisations in 2014-15, including Tate Liverpool, National Galleries of Scotland and the Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent.

From 2014-20, the €14.7bn Erasmus+ scheme facilitates student exchanges and education, training and vocational apprenticeships across the EU, with grants and loans for international study.

Over the same period, the €80bn Horizon 2020 initiative will focus on scientific research, industrial leadership and societal challenges.

Katherine Heid, the head of political development at Culture Action Europe, says the UK receives roughly 25% of the €13bn in funding provided by the European Research Council, which oversees part of Horizon 2020.

She estimates the cultural sector will receive 1.5%-2% of the European Structural and Investment Funds’ €454bn budget for 2014-20.

These funds would need to be renegotiated in the event of an exit, Heid warns, citing Switzerland’s loss of access to Horizon 2020 funding following its decision in 2014 to restrict the mobility of EU citizens. She adds that Norway, which is not a member of the EU, pays contributions to the EU and has access to funds such as Creative Europe, but does not have a seat at the negotiating table with EU members.

Better uses for money

But Harriet Bridgeman, the managing director of the Artists’ Collecting Society and a trustee of Vote Leave, says the UK sends £350m to Brussels every week, which would be better spent on the arts and other priorities.

She says the UK would remain a great cultural power outside the EU, and would still be a member of key international cultural bodies such as Unesco.

But financial arguments are not the only consideration.

Heid regards an exit, with its resulting reduction in mobility and exchange between the UK and the EU, as a “huge loss for the culture of the mind in the UK in terms of diversity and openness”.

As such, museums should be using the referendum as an opportunity to give the debate a historical and social context, says Alistair Brown, the Museums Association’s policy officer, rather than thinking about it in just transactional terms.

The print edition of Museums Journal is out on 1 April

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